1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buddhism
BUDDHISM, the religion held by the followers of the Buddha (q.v.), and covering a large area in India and east and central Asia.
Essential Doctrines.—We are fortunate in having preserved for us the official report of the Buddha's discourse, in which he expounded what he considered the main features of his system to the five men he first tried to win over to his new-found faith. There is no reason to doubt its substantial accuracy, not as to words, but as to purport. In any case it is what the compilers of the oldest extant documents believed their teacher to have regarded as the most important points in his teaching. Such a summary must be better than any that could now be made. It is incorporated into two divisions of their sacred books, first among the suttas containing the doctrine, and again in the rules of the society or order he founded (Samyutta, v. 421 = Vinaya, i. 10). The gist of it, omitting a few repetitions, is as follows:—
"There are two aims which he who has given up the world ought not to follow after—devotion, on the one hand, to those things whose attractions depend upon the passions, a low and pagan ideal, fit only for the worldly-minded, ignoble, unprofitable, and the practice on the other hand of asceticism, which is painful, ignoble, unprofitable. There is a Middle Path discovered by the Tathāgata—a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace, to insight, to the higher wisdom, to Nirvāna. Verily! it is this Noble Eightfold Path; that is to say, Right Views, Right Aspirations, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Mode of Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Rapture.
"Now this is the Noble Truth as to suffering. Birth is attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is painful, death is painful. Union with the unpleasant is painful, painful is separation from the pleasant; and any craving unsatisfied, that too is painful. In brief, the five aggregates of clinging (that is, the conditions of individuality) are painful.
"Now this is the Noble Truth as to the origin of suffering. Verily! it is the craving thirst that causes the renewal of becomings, that is accompanied by sensual delights, and seeks satisfaction now here, now there—that is to say, the craving for the gratification of the senses, or the craving for a future life, or the craving for prosperity.
"Now this is the Noble Truth as to the passing away of pain. Verily! it is the passing away so that no passion remains, the giving up, the getting rid of, the being emancipated from, the harbouring no longer of this craving thirst.
"Now this is the Noble Truth as to the way that leads to the passing away of pain. Verily! it is this Noble Eightfold Path, that is to say, Right Views, Right Aspirations, Right speech, conduct and mode of livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Rapture."
A few words follow as to the threefold way in which the speaker claimed to have grasped each of these Four Truths. That is all. There is not a word about God or the soul, not a word about the Buddha or Buddhism. It seems simple, almost jejune; so thin and weak that one wonders how it can have formed the foundation for a system so mighty in its historical results. But the simple words are pregnant with meaning. Their implications were clear enough to the hearers to whom they were addressed. They were not intended, however, to answer the questionings of a 20th-century European questioner, and are liable now to be misunderstood. Fortunately each word, each clause, each idea in the discourse is repeated, commented on, enlarged upon, almost ad nauseam, in the suttas, and a short comment in the light of those explanations may bring out the meaning that was meant.
The passing away of pain or suffering is said to depend on an emancipation. And the Buddha is elsewhere (Vinaya ii. 239) made to declare: "Just as the great ocean has one taste only, the taste of salt, just so have this doctrine and discipline but one flavour only, the flavour of emancipation"; and again, "When a brother has, by himself, known and realized, and continues to abide, here in this visible world, in that emancipation of mind, in that emancipation of heart, which is Arahatship; that is a condition higher still and sweeter still, for the sake of which the brethren lead the religious life under me." The emancipation is found in a habit of mind, in the being free from a specified sort of craving that is said to be the origin of certain specified sorts of pain. In some European books this is completely spoiled by being represented as the doctrine that existence is misery, and that desire is to be suppressed. Nothing of the kind is said in the text. The description of suffering or pain is, in fact, a string of truisms, quite plain and indisputable until the last clause. That clause declares that the Upādāna Skandhas, the five groups of the constituent parts of every individual, involve pain. Put into modern language this is that the conditions necessary to make an individual are also the conditions that necessarily give rise to sorrow. No sooner has an individual become separate, become an individual, than disease and decay begin to act upon it. Individuality involves limitation, limitation in its turn involves ignorance, and ignorance is the source of sorrow. Union with the unpleasant, separation from the pleasant, unsatisfied craving, are each a result of individuality. This is a deeper generalization than that which says, "A man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." But it is put forward as a mere statement of fact. And the previous history of religious belief in India would tend to show that emphasis was laid on the fact, less as an explanation of the origin of evil, than as a protest against a then current pessimistic idea that salvation could not be reached on earth, and must therefore be sought for in a rebirth in heaven, in the Brahmaloka. For if the fact—the fact that the conditions of individuality are the conditions, also, of pain—were admitted, then the individual there would still not have escaped from sorrow. If the five ascetics to whom the words were addressed once admitted this implication, logic would drive them also to admit all that followed.
The threefold division of craving at the end of the second truth might be rendered "the lust of the flesh, the lust of life and the love of this present world." The two last are said elsewhere to be directed against two sets of thinkers called the Eternalists and the Annihilationists, who held respectively the everlasting-life-heresy and the let-us-eat-and-drink-for-tomorrow-we-die-heresy. This may be so, but in any case the division of craving would have appealed to the five hearers as correct.
The word translated "noble" in Noble Path, Noble Truth, is ariya, which also means Aryan. The negative, un-Aryan, is used of each of the two low aims. It is possible that this rendering should have been introduced into the translation; but the ethical meaning, though still associated with the tribal meaning, had probably already become predominant in the language of the time.
The details of the Path include several terms whose meaning and implication are by no means apparent at first sight. Right Views, for instance, means mainly right views as to the Four Truths and the Three Signs. Of the latter, one is identical, or nearly so, with the First Truth. The others are Impermanence and Non-soul (the absence of a soul)—both declared to be "signs" of every individual, whether god, animal or man. Of these two again the Impermanence has become an Indian rather than a Buddhist idea, and we are to a certain extent familiar with it also in the West. There is no Being, there is only a Becoming. The state of every individual is unstable, temporary, sure to pass away. Even in the lowest class of things, we find, in each individual, form and material qualities. In the higher classes there is a continually rising series of mental qualities also. It is the union of these that makes the individual. Every person, or thing, or god, is therefore a putting together, a compound; and in each individual, without any exception, the relation of its component parts is ever changing, is never the same for two consecutive moments. It follows that no sooner has separateness, individuality, begun, than dissolution, disintegration, also begins. There can be no individuality without a putting together: there can be no putting together without a becoming: there can be no becoming without a becoming different: and there can be no becoming different without a dissolution, a passing away, which sooner or later will inevitably be complete.
Heracleitus, who was a generation or two later than the Buddha, had very similar ideas; and similar ideas are found in post-Buddhistic Indian works. But in neither case are they worked out in the same uncompromising way. Both in Europe, and in all Indian thought except the Buddhist, souls, and the gods who are made in imitation of souls, are considered as exceptions. To these spirits is attributed a Being without Becoming, an individuality without change, a beginning without an end. To hold any such view would, according to the doctrine of the Noble (or Aryan) Path, be erroneous, and the error would block the way against the very entrance on the Path.
So important is this position in Buddhism that it is put in the forefront of Buddhist expositions of Buddhism. The Buddha himself is stated in the books to have devoted to it the very first discourse he addressed to the first converts. The first in the collection of the Dialogues of Gotama discusses, and completely, categorically, and systematically rejects, all the current theories about "souls." Later books follow these precedents. Thus the Kathā Vatthu, the latest book included in the canon, discusses points of disagreement that had arisen in the community. It places this question of "soul" at the head of all the points it deals with, and devotes to it an amount of space quite overshadowing all the rest. So also in the earliest Buddhist book later than the canon—the very interesting and suggestive series of conversations between the Greek king Menander and the Buddhist teacher Nāgasena. It is precisely this question of the "soul" that the unknown author takes up first, describing how Nāgasena convinces the king that there is no such thing as the "soul" in the ordinary sense, and he returns to the subject again and again.
After Right Views come Right Aspirations. It is evil desires, low ideals, useless cravings, idle excitements, that are to be suppressed by the cultivation of the opposite—of right desires, lofty aspirations. In one of the Dialogues instances are given—the desire for emancipation from sensuality, aspirations towards the attainment of love to others, the wish not to injure any living thing, the desire for the eradication of wrong and for the promotion of right dispositions in one's own heart, and so on. This portion of the Path is indeed quite simple, and would require no commentary were it not for the still constantly repeated blunder that Buddhism teaches the suppression of all desire.
Of the remaining stages of the Path it is only necessary to mention two. The one is Right Effort. A constant intellectual alertness is required. This is not only insisted upon elsewhere in countless passages, but of the three cardinal sins in Buddhism (rāga, dosa, moha) the last and worst is stupidity or dullness, the others being sensuality and ill-will. Right Effort is closely connected with the seventh stage, Right Mindfulness. Two of the dialogues are devoted to this subject, and it is constantly referred to elsewhere. The disciple, whatsoever he does—whether going forth or coming back, standing or walking, speaking or silent, eating or drinking—is to keep clearly in mind all that it means, the temporary character of the act, its ethical significance, and above all that behind the act there is no actor (goer, seer, eater, speaker) that is an eternally persistent unity. It is the Buddhist analogue to the Christian precept: "Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
Under the head of Right Conduct the two most important points are Love and Joy. Love is in Pāli Mettā, and the Metta Sutta says (no doubt with reference to the Right Mindfulness just described): "As a mother, even at the risk of her own life, protects her son, her only son, so let him cultivate love without measure towards all beings. Let him cultivate towards the whole world—above, below, around—a heart of love unstinted, unmixed with the sense of differing or opposing interests. Let a man maintain this mindfulness all the while he is awake, whether he be standing, walking, sitting or lying down. This state of heart is the best in the world."
Often elsewhere four such states are described, the Brahma Vihāras or Sublime Conditions. They are Love, Sorrow at the sorrows of others, Joy in the joys of others, and Equanimity as regards one's own joys and sorrows. Each of these feelings was to be deliberately practised, beginning with a single object, and gradually increasing till the whole world was suffused with the feeling. "Our mind shall not waver. No evil speech will we utter. Tender and compassionate will we abide, loving in heart, void of malice within. And we will be ever suffusing such a one with the rays of our loving thought. And with that feeling as a basis we will ever be suffusing the whole wide world with thought of love far-reaching, grown great, beyond measure, void of anger or ill-will."
The relative importance of love, as compared with other habits, is thus described. "All the means that can be used as bases for doing right are not worth the sixteenth part of the emancipation of the heart through love. That takes all those up into itself, outshining them in radiance and glory. Just as whatsoever stars there be, their radiance avails not the sixteenth part of the radiance of the moon. That takes all those up into itself, outshining them in radiance and glory—just as in the last month of the rains, at harvest time, the sun, mounting up on high into the clear and cloudless sky, overwhelms all darkness in the realms of space, and shines forth in radiance and glory—just as in the night, when the dawn is breaking, the morning star shines out in radiance and glory—just so all the means that can be used as helps towards doing right avail not the sixteenth part of the emancipation of the heart through love."
The above is the positive side; the qualities (dhammā) that have to be acquired. The negative side, the qualities that have to be suppressed by the cultivation of the opposite virtues, are the Ten Bonds (Samyojanas), the Four Intoxications (Āsavā) and the Five Hindrances (Nīvaranas).
The Ten Bonds are: (1) Delusion about the soul; (2) Doubt; (3) Dependence on good works; (4) Sensuality; (5) Hatred, ill-feeling; (6) Love of life on earth; (7) Desire for life in heaven; (8) Pride; (9) Self-righteousness; (10) Ignorance. The Four Intoxications are the mental intoxication arising respectively from (1) Bodily passions, (2) Becoming, (3) Delusion, (4) Ignorance. The Five Hindrances are (1) Hankering after worldly advantages, (2) The corruption arising out of the wish to injure, (3) Torpor of mind, (4) Fretfulness and worry, (5) Wavering of mind. "When these five hindrances have been cut away from within him, he looks upon himself as freed from debt, rid of disease, out of jail, a free man and secure. And gladness springs up within him on his realizing that, and joy arises to him thus gladdened, and so rejoicing all his frame becomes at ease, and being thus at ease he is filled with a sense of peace, and in that peace his heart is stayed."
To have realized the Truths, and traversed the Path; to have broken the Bonds, put an end to the Intoxications, and got rid of the Hindrances, is to have attained the ideal, the Fruit, as it is called, of Arahatship. One might fill columns with the praises, many of them among the most beautiful passages in Pāli poetry and prose, lavished on this condition of mind, the state of the man made perfect according to the Buddhist faith. Many are the pet names, the poetic epithets bestowed upon it—the harbour of refuge, the cool cave, the island amidst the floods, the place of bliss, emancipation, liberation, safety, the supreme, the transcendent, the uncreated, the tranquil, the home of peace, the calm, the end of suffering, the medicine for all evil, the unshaken, the ambrosia, the immaterial, the imperishable, the abiding, the farther shore, the unending, the bliss of effort, the supreme joy, the ineffable, the detachment, the holy city, and many others. Perhaps the most frequent in the Buddhist text is Arahatship, "the state of him who is worthy"; and the one exclusively used in Europe is Nirvāna, the "dying out"; that is, the dying out in the heart of the fell fire of the three cardinal sins—sensuality, ill-will and stupidity.
The choice of this term by European writers, a choice made long before any of the Buddhist canonical texts had been published or translated, has had a most unfortunate result. Those writers did not share, could not be expected to share, the exuberant optimism of the early Buddhists. Themselves giving up this world as hopeless, and looking for salvation in the next, they naturally thought the Buddhists must do the same, and in the absence of any authentic scriptures, to correct the mistake, they interpreted Nirvāna, in terms of their own belief, as a state to be reached after death. As such they supposed the "dying out" must mean the dying out of a "soul"; and endless were the discussions as to whether this meant eternal trance, or absolute annihilation, of the "soul." It is now thirty years since the right interpretation, founded on the canonical texts, has been given, but outside the ranks of Pāli scholars the old blunder is still often repeated. It should be added that the belief in salvation in this world, in this life, has appealed so strongly to Indian sympathies that from the time of the rise of Buddhism down to the present day it has been adopted as a part of general Indian belief, and Jīvanmukti, salvation during this life, has become a commonplace in the religious language of India.
Adopted Doctrines.—The above are the essential doctrines of the original Buddhism. They are at the same time its distinctive doctrines; that is to say, the doctrines that distinguish it from all previous teaching in India. But the Buddha, while rejecting the sacrifices and the ritualistic magic of the brahmin schools, the animistic superstitions of the people, the asceticism and soul-theory of the Jains, and the pantheistic speculations of the poets of the pre-Buddhistic Upanishads, still retained the belief in transmigration. This belief—the transmigration of the soul, after the death of the body, into other bodies, either of men, beasts or gods—is part of the animistic creed so widely found throughout the world that it was probably universal. In India it had already, before the rise of Buddhism, been raised into an ethical conception by the associated doctrine of Karma, according to which a man's social position in life and his physical advantages, or the reverse, were the result of his actions in a previous birth. The doctrine thus afforded an explanation, quite complete to those who believed it, of the apparent anomalies and wrongs in the distribution here of happiness or woe. A man, for instance, is blind. This is owing to his lust of the eye in a previous birth. But he has also unusual powers of hearing. This is because he loved, in a previous birth, to listen to the preaching of the law. The explanation could always be exact, for it was scarcely more than a repetition of the point to be explained. It fits the facts because it is derived from them. And it cannot be disproved, for it lies in a sphere beyond the reach of human inquiry.
It was because it thus provided a moral cause that it was retained in Buddhism. But as the Buddha did not acknowledge a soul, the link of connexion between one life and the next had to be found somewhere else. The Buddha found it (as Plato also found it) in the influence exercised upon one life by a desire felt in the previous life. When two thinkers of such eminence (probably the two greatest ethical thinkers of antiquity) have arrived independently at this strange conclusion, have agreed in ascribing to cravings, felt in this life, so great, and to us so inconceivable, a power over the future life, we may well hesitate before we condemn the idea as intrinsically absurd, and we may take note of the important fact that, given similar conditions, similar stages in the development of religious belief, men's thoughts, even in spite of the most unquestioned individual originality, tend though they may never produce exactly the same results, to work in similar ways.
In India, before Buddhism, conflicting and contradictory views prevailed as to the precise mode of action of Karma; and we find this confusion reflected in Buddhist theory. The prevailing views are tacked on, as it were, to the essential doctrines of Buddhism, without being thoroughly assimilated to them, or logically incorporated with them. Thus in the story of the good layman Citta, it is an aspiration expressed on the deathbed; in the dialogue on the subject, it is a thought dwelt on during life, in the numerous stories in the Peta and Vimāna Vatthus it is usually some isolated act, in the discussions in the Dhamma Sangani it is some mental disposition, which is the Karma (doing or action) in the one life determining the position of the individual in the next. These are really conflicting propositions. They are only alike in the fact that in each case a moral cause is given for the position in which the individual finds himself now; and the moral cause is his own act.
In the popular belief, followed also in the brahmin theology, the bridge between the two lives was a minute and subtle entity called the soul, which left the one body at death, through a hole at the top of the head, and entered into the new body. The new body happened to be there, ready, with no soul in it. The soul did not make the body. In the Buddhist adaptation of this theory no soul, no consciousness, no memory, goes over from one body to the other. It is the grasping, the craving, still existing at the death of the one body that causes the new set of Skandhas, that is, the new body with its mental tendencies and capacities, to arise. How this takes place is nowhere explained.
The Indian theory of Karma has been worked out with many points of great beauty and ethical value. And the Buddhist adaptation of it, avoiding some of the difficulties common to it and to the allied European theories of fate and predestination, tries to explain the weight of the universe in its action on the individual, the heavy hand of the immeasurable past we cannot escape, the close connexion between all forms of life, and the mysteries of inherited character. Incidentally it held out the hope, to those who believed in it, of a mode of escape from the miseries of transmigration. For as the Arahat had conquered the cravings that were supposed to produce the new body, his actions were no longer Karma, but only Kiriyā, that led to no rebirth.
Another point of Buddhist teaching adopted from previous belief was the practice of ecstatic meditation. In the very earliest times of the most remote animism we find the belief that a person, rapt from all sense of the outside world, possessed by a spirit, acquired from that state a degree of sanctity, was supposed to have a degree of insight, denied to ordinary mortals. In India from the soma frenzy in the Vedas, through the mystic reveries of the Upanishads, and the hypnotic trances of the ancient Yoga, allied beliefs and practices had never lost their importance and their charm. It is clear from the Dialogues, and other of the most ancient Buddhist records, that the belief was in full force when Buddhism arose, and that the practice was followed by the Buddha's teachers. It was quite impossible for him to ignore the question; and the practice was admitted as a part of the training of the Buddhist Bhikshu. But it was not the highest or the most important part, and might be omitted altogether. The states of Rapture are called Conditions of Bliss, and they are regarded as useful for the help they give towards the removal of the mental obstacles to the attainment of Arahatship. Of the thirty-seven constituent parts of Arahatship they enter into one group of four. To seek for Arahatship in the practice of the ecstasy alone is considered a deadly heresy. So these practices are both pleasant in themselves, and useful as one of the means to the end proposed. But they are not the end, and the end can be reached without them. The most ancient form these exercises took is recorded in the often recurring paragraphs translated in Rhys Davids' Dialogues of the Buddha (i. 84-92). More modern, and much more elaborate, forms are given in the Yogāvacaras Manual of Indian Mysticism as practised by Buddhists, edited by Rhys Davids from a unique MS. for the Pāli Text Society in 1896. In the Introduction to this last work the various phases of the question are discussed at length.
Buddhist Texts. The Canonical Books.—It is necessary to remember that the Buddha, like other Indian teachers of his period, taught by conversation only. A highly-educated man (according to the education current at the time), speaking constantly to men of similar education, he followed the literary habit of his day by embodying his doctrines in set phrases (sūtras), on which he enlarged, on different occasions, in different ways. Writing was then widely known. But the lack of suitable writing materials made any lengthy books impossible. Such sūtras were therefore the recognized form of preserving and communicating opinion. They were catchwords, as it were, memoria technica, which could easily be remembered, and would recall the fuller expositions that had been based upon them. Shortly after the Buddha's time the Brahmins had their sūtras in Sanskrit, already a dead language. He purposely put his into the ordinary conversational idiom of the day, that is to say, into Pāli. When the Buddha died these sayings were collected together by his disciples into what they call the Four Nikāyas, or "collections." These cannot have reached their final form till about fifty or sixty years afterwards. Other sayings and verses, most of them ascribed, not to the Buddha, but to the disciples themselves, were put into a supplementary Nikāya. We know of slight additions made to this Nikāya as late as the time of Asoka, 3rd century B.C. And the developed doctrine, found in certain portions of it, shows that these are later than the four old Nikāyas. For a generation or two the books so put together were handed down by memory, though probably written memoranda were also used. And they were doubtless accompanied from the first, as they were being taught, by a running commentary. About one hundred years after the Buddha's death there was a schism in the community. Each of the two schools kept an arrangement of the canon—still in Pāli, or some allied dialect. Sanskrit was not used for any Buddhist works till long afterwards, and never used at all, so far as is known, for the canonical books. Each of these two schools broke up in the following centuries, into others. Several of them had their different arrangements of the canonical books, differing also in minor details. These books remained the only authorities for about five centuries, but they all, except only our extant Pāli Nikāyas, have been lost in India. These then are our authorities for the earliest period of Buddhism. Now what are these books?
We talk necessarily of Pāli books. They are not books in the modern sense. They are memorial sentences or verses intended to be learnt by heart. And the whole style and method of arrangement is entirely subordinated to this primary necessity. Each sūtra (Pāli, sutta) is very short; usually occupying only a page, or perhaps two, and containing a single proposition. When several of these, almost always those that contain propositions of a similar kind, are collected together in the framework of one dialogue, it is called a sullanta. The usual length of such a suttanta is about a dozen pages; only a few of them are longer, and a collection of such suttantas might be called a book. But it is as yet neither narrative nor essay. It is at most a string of passages, drawn up in similar form to assist the memory, and intended, not to be read, but to be learnt by heart. The first of the four Nikāyas is a collection of the longest of these suttantas, and it is called accordingly the Dīgha Nikāya, that is "the Collection of Long Ones" (sci. Suttantas). The next is the Majjhima Nikāya, the "Collection of the suttantas of Medium Length"—medium, that is, as being shorter than the suttantas in the Dīgha, and longer than the ordinary suttas preserved in the two following collections. Between them these first two collections contain 186 dialogues, in which the Buddha, or in a few cases one of his leading disciples, is represented as engaged in conversation on some one of the religious, or philosophic, or ethical points in that system which we now call Buddhism. In depth of philosophic insight, in the method of Socratic questioning often adopted, in the earnest and elevated tone of the whole, in the evidence they afford of the most cultured thought of the day, these dialogues constantly remind the reader of the dialogues of Plato. But not in style. They have indeed a style of their own; always dignified, and occasionally rising into eloquence. But for the reasons already given, it is entirely different from the style of Western writings which are always intended to be read. Historical scholars will, however, revere this collection of dialogues as one of the most priceless of the treasures of antiquity still preserved to us. It is to it, above all, that we shall always have to go for our knowledge of the most ancient Buddhism. Of the 186, 175 had by 1907 been edited for the Pāli Text Society, and the remainder were either in the press or in preparation.
A disadvantage of the arrangement in dialogues, more especially as they follow one another according to length and not according to subject, is that it is not easy to find the statement of doctrine on any particular point which is interesting one at the moment. It is very likely just this consideration which led to the compilation of the two following Nikāyas. In the first of these, called the Anguttara Nikāya, all those points of Buddhist doctrine capable of expression in classes are set out in order. This practically includes most of the psychology and ethics of Buddhism. For it is a distinguishing mark of the dialogues themselves that the results arrived at are arranged in carefully systematized groups. We are familiar enough in the West with similar classifications, summed up in such expressions as the Seven Deadly Sins, the Ten Commandments, the Thirty-nine Articles, the Four Cardinal Virtues, the Seven Sacraments and a host of others. These numbered lists (it is true) are going out of fashion. The aid which they afford to memory is no longer required in an age in which books of reference abound. It was precisely as a help to memory that they were found so useful in the early Buddhist times, when the books were all learnt by heart, and had never as yet been written. And in the Anguttara we find set out in order first of all the units, then all the pairs, then all the trios, and so on. It is the longest book in the Buddhist Bible, and fills 1840 pages 8vo. The whole of the Pāli text has been published by the Pāli Text Society, but only portions have been translated into English. The next, and last, of these four collections contains again the whole, or nearly the whole, of the Buddhist doctrine; but arranged this time in order of subjects. It consists of 55 Samyuttas or groups. In each of these the suttas on the same subject, or in one or two cases the suttas addressed to the same sort of people, are grouped together. The whole of it has been published in five volumes by the Pāli Text Society. Only a few fragments have been translated.
Many hundreds of the short suttas and verses in these two collections are found, word for word, in the dialogues. And there are numerous instances of the introductory story stating how, and when, and to whom the sutta was enunciated—a sort of narrative framework in which the sutta is set—recurring also. This is very suggestive as to the way in which the earliest Buddhist records were gradually built up. The suttas came first embodying, in set phrases, the doctrine that had to be handed down. Those episodes, found in two or three different places, and always embodying several suttas, came next. Then several of these were woven together to form a suttanta. And finally the suttantas were grouped together into the two Nikāyas, and the suttas and episodes separately into the two others. Parallel with this evolution, so to say, of the suttas, the short statements of doctrine, in prose, ran the treatment of the verses. There was a great love of poetry in the communities in which Buddhism arose. Verses were helpful to the memory. And they were adopted not only for this reason. The adherents of the new view of life found pleasure in putting into appropriate verse the feelings of enthusiasm and of ecstasy which the reforming doctrines inspired. When particularly happy in literary finish, or peculiarly rich in religious feeling, such verses were not lost. These were handed on, from mouth to mouth, in the small companies of the brethren or sisters. The oldest verses are all lyrics, expressions either of emotion, or of some deep saying, some pregnant thought. Very few of them have been preserved alone. And even then they are so difficult to understand, so much like puzzles, that they were probably accompanied from the first by a sort of comment in prose, stating when, and why, and by whom they were supposed to have been uttered. As a general rule such a framework in prose is actually preserved in the old Buddhist literature. It is only in the very latest books included in the canon that the narrative part is also regularly in verse, so that a whole work consists of a collection of ballads. The last step, that of combining such ballads into one long epic poem, was not taken till after the canon was closed. The whole process, from the simple anecdote in mixed prose and verse, the so-called ākhyāna, to the complete epic, comes out with striking clearness in the history of the Buddhist canon. It is typical, one may notice in passing, of the evolution of the epic elsewhere; in Iceland, for instance, in Persia and in Greece. And we may safely draw the conclusion that if the great Indian epics, the Mahā-bhārata and the Rāmāyana, had been in existence when the formation of the Buddhist canon began, the course of its development would have been very different from what it was.
As will easily be understood, the same reasons which led to literary activity of this kind, in the earliest period, continued to hold good afterwards. A number of such efforts, after the Nikāyas had been closed, were included in a supplementary Nikāya called the Khuddaka Nikāya. It will throw very useful light upon the intellectual level in the Buddhist community just after the earliest period, and upon literary life in the valley of the Ganges in the 4th or 5th century B.C., if we briefly explain what the tractates in this collection contain. The first, the Khuddaka Pātha, is a little tract of only a few pages. After a profession of faith in the Buddha, the doctrine and the order, there follows a paragraph setting out the thirty-four constituents of the human body—bones, blood, nerves and so on—strangely incongruous with what follows. For that is simply a few of the most beautiful poems to be found in the Buddhist scriptures. There is no apparent reason, except their exquisite versification, why these particular pieces should have been here brought together. It is most probable that this tiny volume was simply a sort of first lesson book for young neophytes when they joined the order. In any case that is one of the uses to which it is put at present. The text book is the Dhammapada. Here are brought together from ten to twenty stanzas on each of twenty-six selected points of Buddhist self-training or ethics. There are altogether 423 verses, gathered from various older sources, and strung together without any other internal connexion than that they relate more or less to the same subject. And the collector has not thought it necessary to choose stanzas written in the same metre, or in the same number of lines. We know that the early Christians were accustomed to sing hymns, both in their homes and on the occasions of their meeting together. These hymns are now irretrievably lost. Had some one made a collection of about twenty isolated stanzas, chosen from these hymns, on each of about twenty subjects—such as Faith, Hope, Love, the Converted Man, Times of Trouble, Quiet Days, the Saviour, the Tree of Life, the Sweet Name, the Dove, the King, the Land of Peace, the Joy Unspeakable—we should have a Christian Dhammapada, and very precious such a collection would be. The Buddhist Dhammapada has been edited by Professor Fausböll (2nd ed., 1900), and has been frequently translated. Where the verses deal with those ideas that are common to Christians and Buddhists, the versions are easily intelligible, and some of the stanzas appeal very strongly to the Western sense of religious beauty. Where the stanzas are full of the technical terms of the Buddhist system of self-culture and self-control, it is often impossible, without expansions that spoil the poetry, or learned notes that distract the attention, to convey the full sense of the original. In all these distinctively Buddhist verses the existing translations (of which Professor Max Müller's is the best known, and Dr Karl Neumann's the best) are inadequate and sometimes quite erroneous. The connexion in which they were spoken is often apparent in the more ancient books from which these verses have been taken, and has been preserved in the commentary on the work itself.
In the next little work the framework, the whole paraphernalia of the ancient akhyāna, is included in the work itself, which is called Udāna, or "ecstatic utterances." The Buddha is represented, on various occasions during his long career, to have been so much moved by some event, or speech, or action, that he gave vent, as it were, to his pent-up feelings in a short, ecstatic utterance, couched, for the most part, in one or two lines of poetry. These outbursts, very terse and enigmatic, are charged with religious emotion, and turn often on some subtle point of Arahatship, that is, of the Buddhist ideal of life. The original text has been published by the Pāli Text Society. The little book, a garland of fifty of these gems, has been translated by General Strong. The next work is called the Iti Vuttaka. This contains 120 short passages, each of them leading up to a terse deep saying of the Buddha's, and introduced, in each case, with the words Iti vuttam Bhagavalā—"thus was it spoken by the Exalted One." These anecdotes may or may not be historically accurate. It is quite possible that the memory of the early disciples, highly trained as it was, enabled them to preserve a substantially true record of some of these speeches, and of the circumstances in which they were uttered. Some or all of them may also have been invented. In either case they are excellent evidence of the sort of questions on which discussions among the earliest Buddhists must have turned. These ecstatic utterances and deep sayings are attributed to the Buddha himself, and accompanied by the prose framework. There has also been preserved a collection of stanzas ascribed to his leading followers. Of these 107 are brethren, and 73 sisters, in the order. The prose framework is in this case preserved only in the commentary, which also gives biographies of the authors. This work is called the Thera-therī-gāthā.
Another interesting collection is the Jātaka book, a set of verses supposed to have been uttered by the Buddha in some of his previous births. These are really 550 of the folk-tales current in India when the canon was being formed, the only thing Buddhist about them being that the Buddha, in a previous birth, is identified in each case with the hero in the little story. Here again the prose is preserved only in the commentary. And it is a most fortunate chance that this—the oldest, the most complete, and the most authentic collection of folklore extant—has thus been preserved intact to the present day. Many of these stories and fables have wandered to Europe, and are found in medieval homilies, poems and story-books. A full account of this curious migration will be found in the introduction to the present writer's Buddhist Birth Stories. A translation of the whole book is now published, under the editorship of Professor Cowell, at the Cambridge University Press. The last of these poetical works which it is necessary to mention is the Sutta Nipāta, containing fifty-five poems, all except the last merely short lyrics, many of great beauty. A very ancient commentary on the bulk of these poems has been included in the canon as a separate work. The poems themselves have been translated by Professor Fausböll in the Sacred Books of the East. The above works are our authority for the philosophy and ethics of the earliest Buddhists. We have also a complete statement of the rules of the order in the Vinaya, edited, in five volumes, by Professor Oldenberg. Three volumes of translations of these rules, by him and by the present writer, have also appeared in the Sacred Books of the East.
There have also been added to the canonical books seven works on Abhidhamma, a more elaborate and more classified exposition of the Dhamma or doctrine as set out in the Nikāyas. All these works are later. Only one of them has been translated, the so-called Dhamma Sangani. The introduction to this translation, published under the title of Buddhist Psychology, contains the fullest account that has yet appeared of the psychological conceptions on which Buddhist ethics are throughout based. The translator, Mrs Caroline Rhys Davids, estimates the date of this ancient manual for Buddhist students as the 4th century B.C.
Later Works.—So far the canon, almost all of which is now accessible to readers of Pāli. But a good deal of work is still required before the harvest of historical data contained in these texts shall have been made acceptable to students of philosophy and sociology. These works of the oldest period, the two centuries and a half, between the Buddha's time and that of Asoka, were followed by a voluminous literature in the following Periods—from Asoka to Kanishka, and from Kanishka to Buddhaghosa,—each of about three centuries. Many of these works are extant in MS.; but only five or six of the more important Have so far been published. Of these the most interesting is the Milinda, one of the earliest historical novels preserved to us. It is mainly religious and philosophical and purports to give the discussion, extending over several days, in which a Buddhist elder named Nāgasena succeeds in converting Milinda, that is Menander, the famous Greek king of Bactria, to Buddhism. The Pāli text has been edited and the work translated into English. More important historically, though greatly inferior in style and ability, is the Mahāvastu or Sublime Story, in Sanskrit. The story is the one of chief importance to the Buddhists—the story, namely, of how the Buddha won, under the Bo Tree, the victory over ignorance, and attained to the Sambodhi, "the higher Wisdom," of Nirvāna. The story begins with his previous births, in which also he was accumulating the Buddha qualities. And as the Mahāvastu was a standard work of a particular sect, or rather school, called the Mahā-sanghikas, it has thus preserved for us the theory of the Buddha as held outside the followers of the canon, by those whose views developed, in after centuries, into the Mahāyāna or modern form of Buddhism in India. But this book, like all the ancient books, was composed, not in the north, in Nepal, but in the valley of the Ganges, and it is partly in prose, partly in verse. Two other works, the Lalita Vistara and the Buddha Carita, give us—but this, of course, is later—Sanskrit poems, epics, on the same subject. Of these, the former may be as old as the Christian era; the latter belongs to the 2nd century after Christ. Both of them have been edited and translated. The older one contains still a good deal of prose, the gist of it being often repeated in the verses. The later one is entirely in verse, and shows off the author's mastery of the artificial rules of prosody and poetics, according to which a poem, a mahā-kāvya, ought, according to the later writers on the Ars poetica, to be composed.
These three works deal only quite briefly and incidentally with any point of Buddhism outside of the Buddha legend. Of greater importance for the history of Buddhism are two later works, the Netti Pakarana and the Saddharma Pundarīka. The former, in Pāli, discusses a number of questions then of importance in the Buddhist community; and it relies throughout, as does the Milinda, on the canonical works, which it quotes largely. The latter, in Sanskrit, is the earliest exposition we have of the later Mahāyāna doctrine. Both these books may be dated in the 2nd or 3rd century of our era. The latter has been translated into English. We have now also the text of the Prajnā Pāramitā, a later treatise on the Mahāyāna system, which in time entirely replaced in India the original doctrines. To about the same age belongs also the Divyāvadāna, a collection of legends about the leading disciples of the Buddha, and important members of the order, through the subsequent three centuries. These legends are, however, of different dates, and in spite of the comparatively late period at which it was put into its present form, it contains some very ancient fragments.
The whole of the above works were composed in the north of India; that is to say, either north or a few miles south of the Ganges. The record is at present full of gaps. But we can even now obtain a full and accurate idea of the earliest Buddhism, and are able to trace the main lines of its development through the first eight or nine centuries of its career. The Pāli Text Society is still publishing two volumes a year; and the Russian Academy has inaugurated a series to contain the most important of the Sanskrit works still buried in MS. We have also now accessible in Pāli fourteen volumes of the commentaries of the great 5th-century scholars in south India and Ceylon, most of them the works either of Buddhaghosa of Budh Gaya, or of Dhammapāla of Kāncipura (the ancient name of Conjeeveram). These are full of important historical data on the social, as well as the religious, life of India during the periods of which they treat.
Modern Research.—The striking archaeological discoveries of recent years have both confirmed and added to our knowledge of the earliest period. Pre-eminent among these is the discovery, by Mr William Peppé, on the Birdpur estate, adjoining the boundary between English and Nepalese territory, of the stūpa, or cairn, erected by the Sākiya clan over their share of the ashes from the cremation pyre of the Buddha. About 12 m. to the north-east of this spot has been found an inscribed pillar, put up by Asoka as a record of his visit to the Lumbini Garden, as the place where the future Buddha had been born. Although more than two centuries later than the event to which it refers, this inscription is good evidence of the site of the garden. There had been no interruption of the tradition; and it is probable that the place was then still occupied by the descendants of the possessors in the Buddha's time. North-west of this another Asoka pillar has been discovered, recording his visit to the cairn erected by the Sakyas over the remains of Konāgamana, one of the previous Puddhas or teachers, whose follower Gotama the Buddha had claimed to be. These discoveries definitely determine the district occupied by the Sākiya republic in the 6th and 7th centuries B.C. The boundaries, of course, are not known; but the clan must have spread 30 m. or more along the lower slopes of the Himalayas and 30 m. or more southwards over the plains. It has been abandoned jungle since the 3rd century A.D., or perhaps earlier, so that the ruined sites, numerous through the whole district, have remained undisturbed, and further discoveries may be confidently expected.
The principal points on which this large number of older and better authorities has modified our knowledge are as follows:—
1. We have learnt that the division of Buddhism, originating with Burnouf, into northern and southern, is misleading. He found that the Buddhism in his Pāli MSS., which came from Ceylon, differed from that in his Sanskrit MSS., which came from Nepal. Now that the works he used have been made accessible in printed editions, we find that, wherever the existing MSS. came from, the original works themselves were all composed in the same stretch of country, that is, in the valley of the Ganges. The difference of the opinions expressed in the MSS. is due, not to the place where they are now found, but to the difference of time at which they were originally composed. Not one of the books mentioned above is either northern or southern. They all claim, and rightly claim, to belong, so far as their place of origin is concerned, to the Majjhima Desa, the middle country. It is undesirable to base the main division of our subject on an adventitious circumstance, and especially so when the nomenclature thus introduced (it is not found in the books themselves) cuts right across the true line of division. The use of the terms northern and southern as applied, not to the existing MSS., but to the original books, or to the Buddhism they teach, not only does not help us, it is the source of serious misunderstanding. It inevitably leads careless writers to take for granted that we have, historically, two Buddhisms—one manufactured in Ceylon, the other in Nepal. Now this is admittedly wrong. What we have to consider is Buddhism varying through slight degrees, as the centuries pass by, in almost every book. We may call it one, or we may call it many. What is quite certain is that it is not two. And the most useful distinction to emphasize is, not the ambiguous and misleading geographical one—derived from the places where the modern copies of the MSS. are found; nor even, though that would be better, the linguistic one—but the chronological one. The use, therefore, of the inaccurate and misleading terms northern and southern ought no longer to be followed in scholarly works on Buddhism.
2. Our ideas as to the social conditions that prevailed, during the Buddha's lifetime, in the eastern valley of the Ganges have been modified. The people were divided into clans, many of them governed as republics, more or less aristocratic. In a few cases several of such republics had formed confederations, and in four cases such confederations had already become hereditary monarchies. The right historical analogy is not the state of Germany in the middle ages, but the state of Greece in the time of Socrates. The Sākiyas were still a republic. They had republics for their neighbours on the east and south, but on the western boundary was the kingdom of Kosala, the modern Oudh, which they acknowledged as a suzerain power. The Buddha's father was not a king. There were rājas in the clan, but the word meant at most something like consul or archon. All the four real kings were called Mahā-rāja. And Suddhodana, the teacher's father, was not even rāja. One of his cousins, named Bhaddiya, is styled a rāja; but Suddhodana is spoken of, like other citizens, as Suddhodana the Sākiyan. As the ancient books are very particular on this question of titles, this is decisive.
3. There was no caste—no caste, that is, in the modern sense of the term. We have long known that the connubium was the cause of a long and determined struggle between the patricians and the plebeians in Rome. Evidence has been yearly accumulating on the existence of restrictions as to intermarriage, and as to the right of eating together (commensality) among other Aryan tribes, Greeks, Germans, Russians and so on. Even without the fact of the existence now of such restrictions among the modern successors of the ancient Aryans in India, it would have been probable that they also were addicted to similar customs. It is certain that the notion of such usages was familiar enough to some at least of the tribes that preceded the Aryans in India. Rules of endogamy and exogamy; privileges, restricted to certain classes, of eating together, are not only Indian or Aryan, but world-wide phenomena. Both the spirit, and to a large degree the actual details, of modern Indian caste-usages are identical with these ancient, and no doubt universal, customs. It is in them that we have the key to the origin of caste.
At any moment in the history of a nation such customs seem, to a superficial observer, to be fixed and immutable. As a matter of fact they are never quite the same in successive centuries, or even generations. The numerous and complicated details which we sum up under the convenient, but often misleading, single name of caste, are solely dependent for their sanction on public opinion. That opinion seems stable. But it is always tending to vary as to the degree of importance attached to some particular one of the details, as to the size and complexity of the particular groups in which each detail ought to be observed.
Owing to the fact that the particular group that in India worked its way to the top, based its claims on religious grounds, not on political power, nor on wealth, the system has, no doubt, lasted longer in India than in Europe. But public opinion still insists, in considerable circles even in Europe, on restrictions of a more or less defined kind, both as to marriage and as to eating together. And in India the problem still remains to trace, in the literature, the gradual growth of the system—the gradual formation of new sections among the people, the gradual extension of the institution to the families of people engaged in certain trades, belonging to the same group, or sect, or tribe, tracing their ancestry, whether rightly or wrongly, to the same source. All these factors, and others besides, are real factors. But they are phases of the extension and growth, not explanations of the origin of the system.
There is no evidence to show that at the time of the rise of Buddhism there was any substantial difference, as regards the barriers in question, between the peoples dwelling in the valley of the Ganges and their contemporaries, Greek or Roman, dwelling on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The point of greatest weight in the establishment of the subsequent development, the supremacy in India of the priests, was still being hotly debated. All the new evidence tends to show that the struggle was being decided rather against than for the Brahmins. What we find in the Buddha's time is caste in the making. The great mass of the people were distinguished quite roughly into four classes, social strata, of which the boundary lines were vague and uncertain. At one end of the scale were certain outlying tribes and certain hereditary crafts of a dirty or despised kind. At the other end the nobles claimed the superiority. But Brahmins by birth (not necessarily sacrificial priests, for they followed all sorts of occupations) were trying to oust the nobles from the highest grade. They only succeeded, long afterwards, when the power of Buddhism had declined.
4. It had been supposed on the authority of late priestly texts, where boasts of persecution are put forth, that the cause of the decline of Buddhism in India had been Brahmin persecution. The now accessible older authorities, with one doubtful exception, make no mention of persecution. On the other hand, the comparison we are now able to make between the canonical books of the older Buddhism and the later texts of the following centuries, shows a continual decline from the old standpoint, a continual approximation of the Buddhist views to those of the other philosophies and religions of India. We can see now that the very event which seemed, in the eyes of the world, to be the most striking proof of the success of the new movement, the conversion and strenuous support, in the 3rd century B.C., of Asoka, the most powerful ruler India had had, only hastened the decline. The adhesion of large numbers of nominal converts, more especially from the newly incorporated and less advanced provinces, produced weakness rather than strength in the movement for reform. The day of compromise had come. Every relaxation of the old thoroughgoing position was welcomed and supported by converts only half converted. And so the margin of difference between the Buddhists and their opponents gradually faded almost entirely away. The soul theory, step by step, gained again the upper hand. The popular gods and the popular superstitions are once more favoured by Buddhists themselves. The philosophical basis of the old ethics is overshadowed by new speculations. And even the old ideal of life, the salvation of the Arahat to be won in this world and in this world only, by self-culture and self-mastery, is forgotten, or mentioned only to be condemned. The end was inevitable. The need of a separate organization became less and less apparent. The whole pantheon of the Vedic gods, with the ceremonies and the sacrifices associated with them, passed indeed away. But the ancient Buddhism, the party of reform, was overwhelmed also in its fall; and modern Hinduism arose on the ruins of both.
- That is by the Arahat, the title the Buddha always uses of himself. He does not call himself the Buddha, and his followers never address him as such.
- One very ancient commentary on the Path has been preserved in three places in the canon: Dīgha, ii. 305-307 and 311-313, Majjhima, iii. 251, and Samyutta, v. 8.
- Mahāli Suttanta; translated in Rhys Davids' Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. i. p. 201 (cf. p. 204).
- See Iti-vuttaka, p. 44; Samyutta, iii. 57.
- See Dīgha, ii. 28; Jāt. v. 48, ii. 80.
- Burnett, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 149.
- Katha Up. 2, 10; Bhag. Gītā, 2, 14; 9, 33.
- The Anatta-lakkhana Sutta (Vinaya, i. 13 = Samyutta, iii. 66 and iv. 34), translated in Vinaya Texts, i. 100-102.
- See article on "Buddhist Schools of Thought," by Rhys Davids, in the J.R.A.S. for 1892.
- Questions of King Milinda, translated by Rhys Davids (Oxford, 1890-1894), vol. i. pp. 40, 41, 85-87; vol. ii. pp. 21-25, 86-89.
- Majjhima, iii. 251, cf. Samyutta, v. 8.
- Dīgha, ii. 290-315. Majjhima, i. 55 et seq. Cf. Rhys Davids' Dialogues of the Buddha, i. 81.
- No. 8 in the Sutta Nipata (p. 26 of Fausböll's edition). It is translated by Fausböll in vol. x. of the S.B.E., and by Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p. 109.
- Dīgha, ii. 186-187.
- Majjhima, i. 129.
- Iti-vuttaka, pp. 19-21.
- On the details of these see Dīgha, i. 71-73, translated by Rhys Davids in Dialogues of the Buddha, i. 82-84.
- Dīgha, i. 74.
- Samyutta, iv. 251, 261.
- Phaedo, 69 et seq. The idea is there also put forward in connexion with a belief in transmigration.
- Samyutta, iv. 302.
- Majjhima, iii. 99 et seq.
- The history of the Indian doctrine of Karma has yet to be written. On the Buddhist side see Rhys Davids' Hibbert Lectures, pp. 73-120, and Dahlke, Aufsatze zum Verstandnis des Buddhismus (Berlin, 1903), i. 92-106, and ii. l-11.
- For instance, Majjhima, i. 163-166
- Anguttara, iii. 119.
- Dīgha, i. 38.
- See Journal of the Pāli Text Society, 1896, pp. 87-92.